Thursday, October 2, 2014

On Defending Ships With Counter-Measure Drones

Lieutenant Matt Hipple, United States Navy has begun a full court press to use unmanned systems as a form of defense against anti-ship missiles.  Here in Proceedings, he discusses the concept of unmanned aerial vehicles as a decoy to draw fire away from naval vessels.

Matt sees these systems as a viable alternatives for shipboard defense to those currently in use, to include missiles, close-in-weapon gun systems, active electronic jamming, and passive distraction measures such as chaff. Here, he presents his case to Athena East,

When considering the ever-increasing numbers of sea and shore-based anti-ship missiles versus a smaller inventory of expensive defensive Standard missiles, the concept sounds reasonable.  The idea of aircraft as defensive ship decoys certainly isn't new.  In the Falklands conflict, Prince Andrew flew his helicopter in this manner to defend against Argentina's Exocet missiles.  "The helicopter is supposed to hover near the rear of the aircraft carrier, presenting a large target to attract the missiles," he said in a 1982 AP interview.  Drones would present a number of benefits over manned aircraft for this purpose, starting with the fact that an aircrew would not be placed at risk.  Drones provide considerable endurance advantages over manned helicopters, with some models able to fly up to 24 hours at a time. Additionally, smaller, more affordable UAVs can be deployed in numbers, protecting a ship along multiple threat axes. They could carry their own passive counter-measures, such as chaff or obscurants, while emitting electromagnetic radiation of various frequencies to draw in radar-seeking missiles.  They might even be equipped with compact high power radio frequency payloads to fry an incoming missile's electronics.

Across the history of warfare, improvements in offensive and defensive technology have driven innovation and cost-benefit trade-offs.  Counter-measures beget countermeasures, so inevitably the effectiveness of these defensive drones would be eclipsed by new offensive technology.  But in the interim, the U.S. Navy might want to invest some time, money, and energy in small scale concept validation experimenting with existing relatively affordable VTOL UAVs such as the S-100 or Skeldar.